Medium & Large Format

Yashica Mat-124G – Perspective From a Newbie – By Salman Rameli

July 14, 2020

Gear acquisition syndrome got the best of me during this quarantine, and I found myself as the new owner of a Yashica Mat-124G on first week of May. It was pretty easy to convince myself to acquire this beauty frankly, telling myself that I bought the camera as birthday gift, even though my birthday was more than a month away.

This is my third purchase since last July, when I bought a Ricoh 500GX as a starter for learning film photography. Less than three months later I bought another camera, Yashica Electro 35 GS.

I know about twin lens reflex camera since years ago, most notably Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords, though I have no idea there are other manufacturers that also built TLR camera. For me, TLR camera is Rolleiflex/cord. I was introduced to various brands of TLR when browsing Instagram accounts that sell analog cameras. I saw many TLRs such as Seagull, Yashica Mat LM, Yashica 635, and Yashica Mat-124 / 124G. I didn’t pay much attention to these cameras, except for the Yashica Mat-124G. You know the feeling of when you see something that caught your attention and say to yourself “that’s a nice object (camera in this case), hopefully someday I can have something like that”? That was what I felt. I also prefer the 124G over 124, finding the silver trim somehow off-putting.

Still, I didn’t have any plans to acquire one for the foreseeable future. I just landed a job after graduated from university, thus decreasing my time for toying around with my existing cameras.

That was on October 2019.

How It Begin

Fast forward to April 2020, I was working from home like many others during this challenging time. I found myself able to finish my assignments for the day around noon, so I had free time for lollygagging until work hours ended. One day, my sister came to my room showing an Instagram post about a Yashica Mat-124G for sale. It was in near mint condition, with working light meter but came without any accessories. It was also priced rather high.

I was interested and contemplating whether to acquire it or not. Alas, 3 days later I found out that it was sold. Nevertheless, this reignites my interest in acquiring one to try out. I knew that cameras sold through Instagram would be sold quickly, and I didn’t have time to monitor the accounts, so I started scouring online marketplace just like when I searched for my Yashica Electro. I bought my Yashica Electro from a seller that has low “points” (from amount of item sold, not due to bad ratings) which turned out to be very good, so I planned to do just that again.

How I Acquired One

A quick search resulted in 4 listings, 2 of which are disqualified immediately due to bad optics. One of the two left priced way too low to be true, which left only one. The description of that listing only said “For sale Yashica Mat 124G in good condition. Willing to trade with a Mamiya”. The account last logged in was 8 days ago.

Undeterred, I contacted and thankfully got quick response. I asked what’s the catch with the camera and if they would send some images of the camera and some sample pictures taken with the it too. The seller said the light meter was unsurprisingly inoperable, while the camera has paint bubbling around meter needle and chipped paint around often touched areas. The optics were thankfully in good condition and the seller said that they still used it regularly. What I didn’t want was a camera that was stored improperly for years in suboptimal condition and rarely being used. Accessories such as straps (one original Yashica strap, one third party leather strap), wide angle adapter with the case, and the ever-ready case bundled together in the sale sealed the deal. The package arrived two days after I made the purchase.

I purchased the lens hood and soft shutter release button separately around two weeks after the camera arrived.

First Impression About the Camera

It feels solid and hefty, definitely unlike any other cameras I’ve held before. It’s smaller than I anticipated though. As for the condition…

Paint bubbling on top of the camera

Chipped paint in place where you normally touch to open the waist level viewfinder cover

Is this considered a patina?

Notice chipped paint on the shutter speed dial…

…and also on the aperture dial

I know I sound like complaining, but I am not. The condition makes it not too precious being used. If the condition is mint, I would feel heavier guilt if I accidentally do some minor damage while using the camera.

Thankfully the viewing and taking lens are indeed clean. What the seller didn’t mention is both lenses were attached with filter which might explain how nice the lens’ condition is. Swinging the top cover produces sound like swinging an old metal gate open, and you’ll be greeted with a ground glass. It’s dim but not terribly so. But man, I can’t emphasise enough how beautiful that viewfinder is. Viewing the scene through it with both eyes open make whatever you see popped like it has 3D effect. It also helps that the viewing lens has aperture size of f 2.8, that produces beautiful bokeh.

I promise the viewfinder is way brighter than this

Unfortunately, the taking lens does not share same aperture with viewing lens, instead it has smaller aperture size of f 3.5. Nailing focus is pretty hard without using the loupe attached inside the cover, especially when shooting wide open – for me, at least.

The loupe immensely helps nailing focus

I have to relearn composing the image using waist level viewfinder like many others (based on reviews I read), but it’s not something difficult as I got hold of it even before I finished my first roll. What I have to learn is manual metering with sunny 16 rules, as my previous cameras have working light meter.

Small window to see current aperture and shutter speed value

The Yashica Mat-124G is a joy to use. I have to compose the image even slower compared with the rangefinder Yashica (I’m not complaining here), and cranking the film lever make me feel like a magician holding a jack-in-the-box toy.

Jack-in-a-box toy

How the Images Turned Out

I had used 3 rolls of film with this camera; 1 roll of Fuji Pro 400H and 2 rolls of Kodak Portra 160.

Fuji Pro 400H Sample Photos

I don’t show many photos as I just started to meter manually using sunny 16 rule, so the results are mostly terrible.

My sister holding her cat, the V O I D

First and Second Kodak Portra 160 Sample Photos

The majority of these photos are from my second roll of Kodak Portra 160, as the first one mostly documented moments of my family that I don’t feel comfortable sharing it to the internet. These are my favorite results so far, as I finally got hold of how to meter (I use this term loosely) correctly based on the condition.

Teknik Lingkungan = Environmental Engineering

University’s library building

Yours truly

One of many abandoned cars in university where I live

What Is Wrong With the Camera

I don’t know if it’s the camera’s fault or my fault when loading the film, but I only get 11 frames out of supposedly 12 frames. On my first roll, the last picture didn’t appear after developed.

On my second roll, I can’t advanced the forward lever after I took the first picture. I cranked the advance film lever forward but halfway it stopped after turning it around 120 degrees – normally it’s 180 degree – yet I could not took a picture nor rewind the crank opposite way to the normal position, where the lever is pointed at 1 o’clock. I had to forcefully rewind the crank, pressed the shutter button which thankfully made a soft clacking sound. After that I can forward the lever and taking pictures normally until end of the roll. Like the first roll, the first image didn’t appear too.

I didn’t have any problem with my third roll, and surprisingly a quick glance on Google Drive where the lab sent the result to me revealed 12 images. However it turned out that the first picture is…

Clearly something is wrong, either the camera or how I loaded the film – please let me know if you ever experienced something like this. For now, at least I know I can’t count on the first and the last frame.

As for the inoperable light meter does not bother me at all. Again, I think it’s a necessary skill to be able to meter manually based on the scene. Thankfully the battery in Yashica Mat-124G only powers the light meter, unlike my Yashica Electro.

Rest of My Musing

I did mention that the seller bundled the wide angle accessories, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Having only 12 frames to fill in a roll is also a positive thing for me, because I can fill it up quickly then send it to develop. Of course this can also turned into a negative if I wanted to take lots of pictures, as the price of one roll of 120 film is double the price of a Kodak Gold 200 here in Indonesia. Given the current situation, I don’t think I’ll go on holiday in the near future and if I do, it’s the problem for my future self – sucks to be him.

Talking about film rolls, it’s too bad that color negative film in 120 format is not as diverse as 135 – think about Kodak ColorPlus, Gold, Ultramax, or Fuji C200 and Superia X-TRA / Premium. The only brand that offer something like that is Lomography Color 100, 400, and 800. Though what I understand is that medium format is usually reserved for Professional Photographers That Know What They Do™.

Right now my Mat-124G is loaded with another roll of Kodak Portra 160 that is halfway filled, and I also have a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 safely stored in the fridge. But before using the Ektar, I think I will try those Lomography Color films first.

For in-depth review about Yashica Mat-124G, please read Aivaras’ excellent article – he explained the camera way better than I am, and also the accessories for the camera too!

You can find my instagram account here, and you can view my portfolio of my programming projects here.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Andrea
    July 14, 2020 at 10:41 am

    Hi Salman,
    oh I know the feeling! I bought my 124G a few months back (just when the lockdown started) and I have to say I love it!
    I owe a Rolleiflex as well but I have to admit that I prefer to shoot with the Yashica. You can really appreciate the fact that it is younger.

    Sometimes I had the almost the same problem of you. Once I had 11 exposures and another time (or two) I got a double exposure.
    I think that the reason of it is because can happen that I don’t wind completely the lever when I advance the film.
    If I pay more attention of turn completely the lever, usually does not happen.

    My intention would be to give a good service to the camera because I think it deserves it. It is such a nice camera that I would love to have it mint…eventhough mine is in a quite good state.

    I mostly shoot B&W but I tryed a couple of times the Lomo Color 100 which I have to admit I really like the colours of it.
    I bought the Close up 1 lense and I think it is very nice. It is a nice gear to try especially in winter months in the house 🙂

    Did I already say that I love this camera?

    Enjoy,
    Andrea

    • Reply
      salmanrameli
      July 16, 2020 at 6:47 am

      Thanks Andrea! I did read and commented on your article a few months ago. I searched for any mechanics that accept doing CLA for TLR and sadly found none, mostly only repairing digital cameras for SLR.

  • Reply
    Gerald Greenwood
    July 14, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks, a very entertaining article. I’m a big fan of Yashica TLRs. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find better quality medium format photos from a camera for that weight/size/cost. And bonus points for using the word ‘lollygagging’, which I’ve never heard before but now intend to use as often as possible.

    With regards to your missing frames, the 124G has two film starter marker points, one each for 120 and 220 film. Are you sure you’re lining the film up to the correct marker?

    • Reply
      salmanrameli
      July 16, 2020 at 6:14 am

      Thank you! I learned that word from a scene in Spongebob Squarepants (you can see the aforementioned scene here: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/8G9sFnTgaqY/maxresdefault.jpg ). As for loading film, I’m confident I lined the marker correctly with the 120 marker, which is why I’m confused why it jammed or only took 11 out of 12 pictures.

  • Reply
    Cristian Geelen
    July 14, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    Hey! Just read your article and you asked if someone knows what is wrong… Well I have the same camera. And I had a sort of similar problem. Probably it is the drive train that is causing some issues. I have had it repaired with a local camera repairman. And now it is working perfectly.

    Enjoy the camera. It is a beautiful one. 🙂

    • Reply
      salmanrameli
      July 14, 2020 at 1:37 pm

      Ah, I see! Thanks for your information! It seems that it’s a common problem, no?

  • Reply
    Terry B
    July 14, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    So you buy yourself early bithday presents, with me it’s Christmas presents. Well we have to justify purchases to ourselves, don’t we?
    From the images, the optical side of your camera, and your assessment of Sunny-16 looks fine.
    I don’t know how common problems with film advance are, but this is a potential pitfall when buying used Yashicamats, any model. Whilst excellent cameras, they were never built to the same rigorous standards of Rollei, and the mechanical lever advance is prone to wear with a lot of use and/or abuse. This is why a knob wind sample of Yashica could be a better buy. When new, YashicaMats were fine cameras and could last a long time with amateur use. Unfortunately, pros would use them as second cameras, usuallly to a Rollei, and subject them to a harder regime and once they stated to give trouble, they’d sell them on. With the cosmetic damage to yours, this could be the case, sadly. I believe Christian is right here.
    I assume you have been loading the camera correctly, ensuring that the arrow on the film backing is positioned opposite the start mark near the film gate before closing the back? If yes, and you still get problems with missed frames, then Christian is spot on with his assessment.
    Regarding your penultimate image, is that the print or negative? And are you sure it is the first image on the roll? If it is the first, and it is the print, it suggests to me that the camera shutter failed to fire as to produce a black print the film would be clear after being developed. Have a look at the negative and you should find it’s clear.

    • Reply
      salmanrameli
      July 14, 2020 at 3:03 pm

      Thank you for your lengthy explanation, Terry. I don’t know the history of Yashica’s TLR, and I agree with mine’s condition it seems it lived a long hard life before. I’m pretty confident that I load the film correctly, after reading and watching several videos regarding loading the film for this camera.

      As for the broken image, it’s from the scan from the lab, and you’re correct that the negative is clear. I remember it’s the first picture because I consume (don’t know the correct term) that film in 3 days, so I still remember when and where I took the pictures.

      Again, thank you for your explanation, I really apreciate it.

      • Reply
        Terry B
        July 14, 2020 at 4:55 pm

        Salman, it does now appear that you have an issue with the shutter cocking sequence which is not happening with the first frame, or the shutter is being cocked but for some reason is not being tripped. But why only on the first frame of the film is a mystery.
        Some of the older Zeiss folding 120 cameras only gave 11 frames due to the winder mechanism which ensures that there is no overlap of frames,so your Mat is in good company. Whilst this is unsatisfactory if it always occurs only with frame 1 and otherwise the camera is working normally you’d need to weigh up the loss of one frame per roll versus the cost of repair.
        So if the camera is otherwise consistent in it’s operation is a repair worth it?

        • Reply
          salmanrameli
          July 16, 2020 at 6:36 am

          Well, I bought this camera as a stepping stone to the world of medium format and TLR. While I’m rather disappointed with the state of the camera, I accepted the fact that I can’t trust the camera to take the first and the last image reliably. I’m also searching for a trustworthy repairman to perform CLA not only for this Mat-124G but also my late grandfather’s Canon AE-1 and its various lenses. Sadly most of the shops that accept servicing cameras mostly only work with digital cameras or SLR only, not TLR.

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    July 14, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    Is your sister riding a folding bicycle? Very nice and super handy. Oh, and your photographs are great, also!

    • Reply
      salmanrameli
      July 15, 2020 at 2:55 am

      Thanks! The folding bike is my sister’s, but that girl riding the bike is my girlfriend. Haven’t tried the folding mechanism though, as we don’t want to go places outside the campus complex.

  • Reply
    Mark Tapia
    July 14, 2020 at 7:37 pm

    Thanks for the “newbie” perspective on TLRs.
    Two TLRs worth considering: Minolta Autocord and Ricohflex, both with front focus lever.
    As for the problems with the camera:
    “However, I have heard that the 124G, particularly the later ones, may be less robust internally, with more plastic and brass parts than the 124. Both are apparently occasionally prone to film spacing issues.”
    http://mattsclassiccameras.com/tlr-box/yashica-mat-124/

    • Reply
      salmanrameli
      July 16, 2020 at 6:41 am

      Thanks for reading too. I did searched for both of them upon learning their existence, but I found none for sale here in Indonesia.

  • Reply
    Martin
    July 15, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    In your list of TLRs you missed out my favourite, the Minolta Autocord. Sometime called the Japanese Rolleicord, some say its even better especially in the last versions. Check it out, you’ll be surprised.

    • Reply
      salmanrameli
      July 16, 2020 at 3:05 am

      Ah yes, the Minolta Autocord. I just realised its’ existence after trawling the internet searching for TLR reviews, as I only know about their SLR lineup. I remember searching for one and none of it is available here in Indonesia.

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